Sunday, February 12, 2012


The video below describes Kickstarter. It is about 30 mins long but the second 15 minutes is Q & A so you can learn a lot by watching just the first half (although the second half is very informative). Kickstarter was founded by Yancey Strickler, the guy in the video who I find very appealing, sort of like Ferris Bueller made good. He seems so unassuming and natural and his ideas so easily presented and organized. Like - oh yeah - this makes total sense even though in some ways it seems completely implausible. The fact that it works and is as successful as it is says something. Maybe about the culture. I do not know why I say this but to me Kickstarter has an Occupy Wall Street feel to it -  a sort of adamant innocence about holding onto something before the world takes it from you (Footnote 1) - the idea that you can do what you want to do (even if what you want to do is just figure out what you want to do).  Anyway, I think Kickstarter is neat.

Footnote 1: Holding onto something before the world takes it from you is a big issue.  About 20 percent of five year old children given a choice to eat one marshmallow now or wait ten minutes and have two, eat the one now. Those same children who eat the one now go on to have a 50% higher rate of substance abuse, lower educational success, more legal issues and generally are less successful than the five year olds who choose to wait in order to get two marshmallows later. Bad habits seem to involve the notion of harm being a long way off - suicide on the installment plan. Good habits seem to be motivated by a belief that the pay off is within reaching distance.  If you ask people,  I think most will say that 20 years is a long time. Some will say it feels like it will be here tomorrow. I think that a "it will be here tomorrow" perspective would ward off tobacco cravings (no one would smoke if they thought they would get lung cancer in a month) while also stemming motivation to practice piano (everyone would practice piano if they thought they could learn to play well in a month).

What that has to do with Occupy Wall Street or Kickstarter, I do not know. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Herzog Observation Of The Week...

Werner Herzog seems to have an unlimted (and hilarious) attention span...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Song of the Week - Wait For The Sun - by Ollabelle

Ollabelle is a NYC band (named after Appalachian songwriter Ola Bella Reed) formed at the bar 9C on 9th street and Avenue C about 15 years ago. I think this is a beautiful song. Here are the lyrics and the video is below that...

Don’t fade away
Don’t turn out the light of the day
When even the shadows are claimed by the dark

I won’t let you down
I won’t let them turn you around
Just hold on for now
The dawn isn’t far away
So just keep your stay

And wait for the sun
Wait for the sun

Tracks in the sand
And cracks in the clay where you stand
The wind sweeps away all that was lost and found
So go underground
And wait for the sun
Wait for the sun
Wait for the sun

Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun

Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupy Campaign Finance Reform

Imagine a political systems that allows anyone to run for election who can generate sufficient signatures to get on a ballot who are then each given the same amount of public money to spend on their election. Imagine being elected and not then spending 50% of your time fundraising. Imagine not  dialing for dollars, imagine no fundraisers, imagine no moneyed special interests, imagine no moneyed lobbying. Imagine not contributing to political parties or to political campaigns. Imagine if  the amount of money it takes to get elected was not obscene and corrosive.  Just a thought.

Here is an article that suggests that while there is some correlation and elasticity between charitable giving and political donations there is a zero sum point at which one negatively impacts the other. In other words,  at some point,  the millions given to political campaigns may come from the (picked) pockets of the needy.  Or, put another way:


"It's hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012."
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, a New York-based fund-raiser for President Obama.

Do charitable subsidies crowd out political giving? The missing link between charitable and political contributions.

by Barış K. Yörük*


This paper investigates the spillover effects of charitable subsidies on political giving using five independent surveys of charitable and political giving in the United States conducted from 1990 to 2001. The results show that charitable and political giving are complements. Compared with non-donors, charitable donors are more likely to donate and give more to political organizations. Increasing the price of charitable giving decreases not only charitable giving but also the probability of giving and the amount of donations to political organizations. The implied elasticity of the amount of political contributions with respect to the tax price of charitable giving is as much as -0.88. This effect is robust under different specifications and with different sets of instrumental variables. These results highlight the positive externalities created by charitable subsidies and have important implications for economic models of political and charitable giving.

Keywords: charitable giving, political giving, tax price of giving JEL classification: H24, H31, L38

* Department of Economics, University at Albany, SUNY, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany, NY 12222. Tel: (518) 442-3175. Fax: (518) 442-4736. E-mail:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

School District Resource Sharing

I did a quick read of some studies on school district consolidation and the informed consensus seems to come down against school district mergers (especially in poor districts). Based on the evidence, proposals to share school superintendents and/or merge school districts should be looked at sceptically because the data suggests that any economic savings are illusory and that there are no improvements in educational outcomes. This is especially true in times of economic pressures to cut school funding. There are some exceptions. Here's one example in California of two districts that have  shared a superintendent for the last 6 years with a seemingly positive local response. It does seem, however,  that this experience is the exception to the rule that school consolidation does not improve the educational experience or produce any significant cost savings.

(The article below is from a local newspaper, The Mountain Democrat, February 24, 2011)

Two school districts share superintendent

SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
Predating all the talk about school district consolidation, two districts in El Dorado County have been pooling one of their resources for years. Dick Williams, superintendent of Pioneer Union School District since 1997, has also been the superintendent of  Gold Oak Union School District for the past six years.
“When the Gold Oak superintendent retired, the district was looking at ways to save money and get an experienced superintendent,” said Williams, 59. ” Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Office of Education superintendent, suggested a shared superintendency and she approached Gold Oak’s board.”
The innovative idea gave each of the small school districts an experienced superintendent and a savings in expense.
“It’s a shared position,” said Williams, “not a half-time position at each district. The superintendent is responsible for everything, 24/7. There’s no half-time about it. That responsibility carries quite a weight, but it’s worked very well.”
Gold Oak subcontracts for Williams’ services through Pioneer and each January, the Gold Oak Board of Trustees reviews the contract and chooses whether to renew it. This year, for the first time in six years, both districts have stated their intent to leave their option to renew the contract open for the moment.
“Taking on a second job didn’t double my salary, ” joked Williams, “but both boards have been very positive about the superintendency. It’s not the only shared superintendency in the state, but there aren’t many of them.”
Gold Oak Union School District Board of Trustees President Susanne Holtrichter said, “We’ve benefited from it greatly. I think he does a full-time job in half the time and we’re hopeful that we can continue sharing a superintendent.”
“It works extremely well and it’s great for both districts,” said  John D’Agostini, a seven-year Pioneer Union Board of Trustees member.
“With the uncertainty of the state budget, we’re not sure where all the pieces are going to fall,” said Holtrichter, “so we’re leaving our options open — not because we don’t want to continue sharing a superintendent, but because we just don’t know what we’re going to need to do.”
The Pioneer district also wanted to keep their options open, said D’Agostini. “We are weighing our options, depending on the state budget. This sharing has saved us a lot of money and allowed us to continue the educational programs we have despite the changes in the budget, but we may have to look at restructuring some things.”
“Things like funding and  what’s best for kids change all the time,” said Pioneer board member Mel Kelley. “We’ve got to be prepared to move with the changes.”
Williams understands completely.
“In February the districts really focus on making personnel budget decisions for the upcoming year. Pioneer has a declining enrollment. With a greater level of uncertainty due to  the state fiscal deficit. They make have to look at a reduction in administrative personnel or a restructuring of personnel, so both districts need to keep things open. A decision to renew the contract now would lock them in.”
Williams’ typical day puts him in both districts. “I try to start the day in one district and end in the other,” said Williams, “and I stagger the days so each district gets equal  a.m. and p.m. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal.”
“The biggest difference between the districts is the wrestling,” said Williams. “In Gold Oak, wrestling is incredibly popular and they have teams at both the elementary and middle schools. At Pioneer, it’s a struggle to get a team together, yet the districts are right next door to each other. We try to give the kids who want to participate in wrestling an opportunity if there isn’t a team in their district.”
Both districts have three schools, but Williams said the culture of each district is different.
“The history of each district, the level of parent involvement and the culture of the community is unique. I had to learn the Gold Oak culture so I could make this work for them and not change it. That’s been one of the most fascinating things about the job.”
His dual roles have been challenging and a boost to  professional growth.
“I don’t know if it will last forever and it’s not always easy, but it’s been great.”


Add to Technorati Favorites